Bertram Ryan, popularly known as Bert, was my grandma Elsie’s brother. From the cards and letters I’ve seen sent to her by him, he seemed to adore his sister. There was just a year in age between them. Bert signed up, as soon as he could by all accounts, with the navy and fought in World War II.
On his travels he met Ruth, originally from Melbourne but then living in New Zealand to help look after her family. They married when she was 23 and Bert brought her back to England during the war. Originally Ruth lived in London, though when the London home was bombed out, she moved to Waterloo near Liverpool, where she had an aunty and uncle. Again the home fell under attack from bombs and Ruth then moved to Northowram in Halifax to stay with Bert’s family. Ruth gave birth to a daughter, Judith, when she was 25. When Ruth was 27, in 1942, she received a telegram letting her know that Bert was missing presumed dead. On November 10th, his ship the HMS Martin had been torpedoed off the coast of Algiers, North Africa.
These are the facts. Entwined and entangled within them are sadder stories of how families misunderstand one another, with grey areas, different perspectives which coloured and clouded the thoughts of generations. Perhaps one day I will pick out more facts to piece together some of the other stories within stories which can be told. Suffice to say, I’m honoured and warmed that this blog has brought me closer to family I might never have had the chance to spend time with otherwise, before it was too late.
In the meantime, as the keeper of family things, these medals came to me and helped me learn more about my great uncle Bert, who died aged just 27. Love to you Bert and Ruth, I hope you are now reunited have both found peace at last.
I was touched to be given Elsie’s sewing table and sewing tins when she died. She was a prolific needlewoman and I remember the hundreds of times I saw her peering over an embroidery or tapestry frame. For a long time all her haberdashery supplies were left as they were, in my sewing cupboard. There was a huge tangle of embroidery threads in tins and bags and I’ve finally got round to sorting and tidying them. As I unwrapped the many ‘leftovers’ which she preciously saved for other projects, I unravelled the scraps of paper she’d wrapped them around. They date from 1938 to late 1950s (I’m guessing, from the design of the gas advert). The W. Ryan mentioned in the British Legion is William Ryan, Elsie’s dad. I’m still working through the threads, there may be more treasures to uncover yet…
The text on the back of this picture says it’s HMS Cerion. However a bit of research showed that no such ship existed. A bit more research and it turns out most likely to be the HMS Ceylon.
This is my grandma Elsie Mulligan (nee Ryan). Arthur, her husband, as we know, was in the navy and this website explains that the HMS Ceylon ventured to Scapa Flow on Orkney. We did already know Arthur traveled there whilst in the Navy so it makes sense that it was actually the HMS Ceylon she’s aboard here. I’ve emailed the founder of the website to see if he or any of its associated members could verify this, though it seems very probable anyway.
The caption on the photo says she was about to go into the boilerhouse, which explains the ‘scrubs’ and surely the job of the wife of a Navy man was to smile and lift the spirits on rare ventures aboard. But I wonder, really, how happy a young woman, whose husband is off to war, standing under two overbearingly large canons, could be. The more I discover about her, the more I see what incredible inner strength she had.
The HMS Orion at Suez in 1943.
My mum (Janet Ryan) recently wrote this about grandad (Arthur Mulligan) and his connection to the ship…
"…During the war he was called up to join the Royal Navy. My father was soon promoted to Lieutenant Instructor, and on HMS Orion he served in the Mediterranean where his maths and astronomy were invaluable as he was called on when enemy mines were spotted as he could easily calculate the distance speed and direction which the warship Orion must navigate to avoid the mines: I understand from an aunt that he had little sleep during this time. He was also at Scapa Flow ( Orkney ), fortunately not when the U boat entered unseen. He taught navigation at Greenwich and at Portsmouth".
I remember being told about this by mum once, I must have been young because the explanation I got, was that his job was to drive ships at night using the stars instead of a map.
The Inaugural Nelson Gramophone Society
Quick apologies for a very quiet blog of late. I am still collecting documents, objects, stories etc. The only delay is due to lack of time, and lack of images to go with the many excellent stories that have come in. If you have a story to send me, please do - if you have an image that would go with it - even better! Mum (Janet Ryan) sent me an article she wrote about her dad, Arthur Mulligan, something of a local character, much known, loved and respected by all accounts. I’ll come back to that another time but it reminded me of something else I’d come across about his role in setting up Nelson’s Gramophone Society…
* “Although the present society dates its foundation from October 1950 there had been an earlier gramophone society in Nelson of which little is known apart from the fact that, like its successor, it met in the Borough Café. We don’t know when that society started but we do know when it ended. The advent of the wireless as a new source of music in the home (and of the cinema as another challenger in the entertainment field) caused its membership to dwindle to a point where the society was no longer viable and, towards the end of 1925, the founders conceded defeat, held a final meeting and disbanded.
For the next 25 years there was no gramophone society in Nelson. By 1950, however, radio was no longer a novelty and interest in music on record had revived, boosted by the release in June that year of the first LPs from Decca. Alec Croasdale’s record shop (which stood on the corner of Every St. and Pendle St.) was a favourite hang-out for record enthusiasts and three of these were the founders of the new Nelson Gramophone Society. Their names were Edgar Kay (who had been a member of the old society), Alan Robinson and Arthur Mulligan; names which may be familiar to many older residents of Nelson and district.